Rome, as Far Away as the Moon

1 Apr 1991
News & Stories
Heiner Müller
Heiner Müller


Movie scenes, montages of images and text, as well as conversations between Alexander Kluge, playwright Heiner Müller and classicist Wilfried Stroh provide a multifaceted insight in the far-away world of Ancient Rome.

The conversation with Müller revolves around Tacitus' representation of the Roman Empire around 112 AD. First, Müller reads passages from the historicist's annals that describe Tiberius' tragic death (37 AD). Kluge and Müller discuss the text's aesthetic qualities. Müller is interested in Tacitus for the aesthetic pleasures rather than out of historical curiosity. He describes Tacitus' style as "transition from chronicle to literature," which manifests in his "elliptical," sometimes laconic narration.

Image-film montages, accompanied by selected quotes by Tacitus about devastating, cruel battles during the expansion of the Roman Empire, as well as the collapse of the amphitheater, shine a light on the merciless cruelty of the Roman res publica. The look at a Roman senate session provides an impression of the cruel objectivity in the political debate about war: Before the backdrop of the continuing threat to the Empire emanating from Carthage (Second Punic War), in particular general Hannibal, the senate discusses the question of how to react to Hannibal's plan of attack (is he going to lead his entire army over the Alps in the middle of winter?). Images of the decisive battle at Zama (202 BC), during which Hannibal's army with its Punic elephants is defeated, are followed by movie sequences showing the subsequent triumphal session of the senate: "Carthage has been destroyed!"

How did Latin consonants and vowels sound in the 2nd century? To conclude the feature, Kluge talks to Wilfried Stroh, classics professor, about documents of ancient grammar. In the 2nd century AD, Roman grammarian Terentianus Maurus wrote a didactic poem about Latin orthoepy: from the pronunciation of individual sounds, to the articulation of specific vowels, up to syllables and meters. Stroh recites passages from the didactic poem in Latin, in order to give an impression of the sound of Latin in 2nd century AD.